Tuesday, June 20, was World Refugee Day. However, to understand the current migrants, refugees and asylum seekers issues, we need to understand the development of the philosophy of human rights.
The modern philosophy of human rights developed in response to years of Church led religious wars that caused centuries of suffering worldwide. Popes supported tyrants who misused their power, wealth, and privilege to oppress the people, and in return they were well paid. This also led to the rise of slavery during the 15th and 16th century as the Christian church promoted the belief that those of European Christian heritage were superior to others.
In response to the corruption of the Christian Church, humanism and the philosophy of liberalism arose during the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment during the 18th century, leading to the belief in natural rights and natural law, the foundation of the modern idea of fundamental rights of every person.
During WWII, the UN adopted the principles of Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want, but as the atrocities of Nazi Germany came to light, the UN ratified to reaffirm the “faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person” and commit all member states to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.
As formerly colonized countries struggled with civil wars, millions were forced to leave their homes to avoid violence and economic devastation. UN responded with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which set out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. The only group of people the Convention declared should not receive the rights of asylum seekers were war criminals.
Rather than vilifying the refugees like current politicians who talk about the “broken immigration system”, the UN Convention also provided visa free travel for holders of refugee travel documents. Following WWII, the system ”worked”, and allowed Western Europeans to file for asylum in their countries and were given freedom to travel to the country of their choice. However, this system was never used for anyone who was not “white.”
The system is broken today because we only want to “cherry pick” the wealthy and educated, those who can benefit us, and turn away those who are seeking freedom and liberty. Rather than taking care of the poor and disadvantaged, we are vilifying them for being poor.
The current social hatred fueled by the conservative NOT-Christian evangelicalism is the attempt to return the society to corrupt institutionally based religiosity of Dark Ages of 500 years ago, and to undo the belief of fundamental freedom and inherent rights of individuals.
The philosophy of basic human rights declares that everyone has the fundamental right to live in peace. Those who travel to find the place to do so is a natural human story. Whether we call them refugees, immigrants, migrants, pilgrims, or citizens, they are all our brothers, sisters and siblings. Let us remove the human sinful barrier called “national borders” and live with open and caring hearts.